Frauen: German Women Recall the Third Reich / Edition 1

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What were the women of Germany doing during the Third Reich? What were they thinking? And what do they have to say a half century later?

In Frauen we hear their voices––most for the first time. Alison Owings interviewed and here records the words of twenty-nine German women who were there: Working for the Resistance. Joining the Nazi Party. Outsmarting the Gestapo. Disliking a Jewish neighbor. Hiding a Jewish friend. Witnessing "Kristallnacht." Witnessing the firebombing of Dresden. Shooting at Allied planes. Welcoming Allied troops. Being a prisoner. And being a guard. The women recall their own and others' enthusiasm, doubt, fear, fury, cowardice, guilt, and anguish.

Alison Owings, in her pursuit of such memories, was invited into the homes of these women. Because she is neither Jewish nor German, and because she speaks fluent colloquial German, many of the women she interviewed felt comfortable enough with her to unlock the past. What they have to say will surprise Americans, just as they surprised the women themselves.

Not since Marcel Ophuls's controversial film The Sorrow and the Pity have we been on such intimate terms with "the enemy." In this case, the story is that of the women, those who did not make policy but were forced to participate in its effects and to witness its results. What they did and did not do is not just a reflection on them and their country––it also leads us to question what actions we might have taken in their place. The interviews do not allow for easy, smug answers.

Twenty-nine German women recall memories of the Third Reich. What they have to say will surprise Americans, just as they surprised the women themselves. Not since Marcel Ophuls' controversial film The Sorrow and the Pity have we been on such intimate terms with "the enemy."

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Editorial Reviews

New York Times Book Review

"In vivid and often poignant portraits-cum-interviews . . . [Owings] has captured the extraordinary diversity of their experiences . . . each portrait, each interview, provides valuable insight into what happened to half the German population between 1933 and 1945."
Women's Review of Books

"These oral histories displace the silences and stereotypes that have prevented us from recognizing the myriad ways German women and their families responded to Nazism. . . . They probe the complexities and contradictions that German women faced during the Nazi era, reminding us that human action is never automatic or overdetermined. . . . Reading Frauen we begin to glimpse how the exercise of conscience is simultaneously possible and subverted under fascism."
Los Angeles Times Book Review

"A remarkable work of history that stands out from the vast library of World War II studies for its sheer intimacy and its sometimes startling perspectives. . . . Frauen transcends the genre of oral history and turns into something more elaborate and accomplished and memorable."
Chicago Tribune

"[An] engaging book . . . this is oral history as it should be done."
Susan Brownmiller

"Frauen goes further than any book I know toward addressing the eternal question of the private citizen's individual responsibility within a fascist regime. Few of Ms. Owings's Frauen can be called heroines, or even passive resisters. But that is her point. This book will be mined by contemporary and future scholars, indeed, by all who puzzle over the moral failures of 'human nature'."

"An extraordinarily rich historical resource, both exhilarating and exasperating, moving, and occasionally, hilarious. Owings asks tough questions, has a fine eye for telling gestures, and chooses her subjects from all walks of life. . . . An excellent work."

"This collection . . . will fascinate anyone who has wondered how ordinary women experienced life in Nazi Germany. . . . A valuable work of reportage."
San Francisco Chronicle

"The effect is akin to eavesdropping on an intimate conversation and helps put events and people's reactions to them in context . . . Owings resists stereotyping her subjects."
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
A vivid picture of Germany under the Nazis emerges from this collection of unsettling interviews conducted by freelance TV writer Owings with 29 women of diverse backgrounds, both Aryan and Jewish. Among the women whose lives in Germany's war-torn homefront are chronicled are the widow of a resistance leader and the wife of an SS guard, who refers to her husband's work in the Ravensbrook and Buchenwald ``manufacturing plants.'' Not only did Hitler attract the young but, according to one supporter, ``he understood how to fascinate women.'' Some of these women claim that they privately protested mistreatment of Jews and prisoners and risked their lives to assist them. Only one non-Jewish woman, however, admits to ``hearing'' that Jews were gassed. (Oct.)
Library Journal
Owings, a freelance television writer who is neither a German nor a Jew, has compiled and edited a groundbreaking set of oral histories. She interviews women from many spectrums of the Third Reich: Germans, Jews, individuals of ``mixed'' parentage, a countess, a camp guard, women who hid Jews, Nazi supporters, Communists, and other women who witnessed and participated in everyday and extraordinary events. Owings has tried, as much as possible, to quote her interviewees directly yet still manages to create an even and engaging text. This volume is an excellent companion to Claudia Koonz's Mothers in the Fatherland: Women, Family Life, and Nazi Ideology , 1919-1945 ( LJ 11/1/86). Highly recommended.-- Jenny Presnell, Miami Univ. Libs., Oxford, Ohio
Kirkus Reviews
Powerful testimony from 29 German women survivors of the Third Reich that provides not only a stunning portrait of life on the home front but also insights into a society that spawned both Hitler and the Holocaust. Wanting to find out why German women "did not behave like the humane peacemakers, the nurturers that people believe women really are, [and] stop the Nazis," Owings, a TV news-writer based in California, visited and revisited her subjects over a period of years, usually in their homes, where she was cordially received. Those interviewed include a former concentration-camp guard; the widow of a Resistance hero; a lifelong Communist residing in what was then East Germany; and an unrepentant Nazi schoolteacher. Also offering testimony are Lotte Muller, a plumber, who was sent to Ravensbruck—the notorious women's camp—because of her Communist connections; former countess Maria von Lingen, who always thought of herself as more a European than a German; Margret Blersch, a physician who helped save people the "Nazis would have murdered;" and Erna Dubnak, a low-paid worker who hid her "dear friend" Hilda Naumann, a Jew, throughout the war. During the war, most of the women endured great hardships as bombing raids intensified, food grew scarce, and the Russians advanced. The collapse of the German economy and the climate of fear that the Nazis created initially ensured the support of many of Owens's subjects—but according to Freya von Moltke, whose husband was executed by the Nazis, even those who didn't support Hitler carry a burden of guilt: "People who lived through the Nazi time, and who still live, who did not lose their lives because they were opposed, all hadto make compromises." Oral history at its best, and a much-needed record of WW II German women, who "faced the day-to-day consequences of the Third Reich with impudence or despair, hesitation or hope, with shame, and with blinders." (First printing of 7,500)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780813522005
  • Publisher: Rutgers University Press
  • Publication date: 1/28/1993
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 536
  • Sales rank: 720,578
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.25 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

Alison Owings is a free-lance journalist who has contributed regularly major television network news broadcasts. She lives in Mill Valley, California, with her husband.
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Table of Contents

Idealism and Chasm: Frau Margarete Fischer
Motherhood Times Ten, and Food to Spare: Frau Wilhelmne Haferkamp
A Matter of Fate: Frau Marianne Karlsruhen
National Socialism and Christianity: Frau Ursula Meyer-Semiles
Retrospective Guilt: Frau Liselotte Otting
The History Lesson: Frau Mathilde Mundt
An “Exotic” Past: Frau Verona Groth
A Cosmopolitan View of the World: Frau Maria von Lingen
Learning How Communism Works: Frau Irene Burchert
Solidarity and Survival: Frau Charlotte Müller
“We Did Love our Führer, Really!”: Frau Ellen Frey
Before, During, and After the Firebombing: Frau Ursula Kretzschmar
The Ambivalence of Avoidance: Frau Martha Brixus
From the Emperor to a Mud Hole: Frau Margarete Sasowski
Rural Perspectives: Frau Barbara Amschel, Frau Anna Lieb, Frau Anna Maier
A Modest Woman of the Resistance: Mrs. Freya von Moltke
The Schisms of a “Flakwaffenhelferin”: Frau Erna Tietz
On Megalomaniacs and Little People: Frau Anna Rigl
Dissident Clergy and Dissident Actions: Frau Emmi Heinrich
A Job in Its Own Category: Frau Anna Fest
A Child Not of the Times: Frau Karma Rauhut
“A Very Unpolitical Woman”: Frau Anne Hepp
“I Was Alone. And I Had the Whole City Against Me.”: Frau Doktor Margret Blersch
“I Am Never Dishonest.”: Frau Regina Frankenfeld
Life as a Cabaret: Frau Christine Weihs
A Natural Matter of Friendship: Frau Erna Dubnack
Talking about Silence: Ms. Rita Kuhn
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Sort by: Showing all of 2 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted November 15, 2004

    terrific reading

    I thoroughly enjoyed this book. It's beautifully written. Frauen gives a voice to women who may not have been heard if not for Ms. Owings. In fact, I've given this book as gifts to several friends and relations and they have thanked me for it. Frauen made me cry and shudder with horror and made me laugh a few times as well.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 29, 2003

    an otherwise great idea

    I was disappointed. I found the author's interuptions very annoying. It would have been wonderful if the women had been allowed to speak without condemnation or rude physical discriptions.I really felt a great idea had been wasted by the author's concern with her own points of view and prejudices. I did not want to read about the author, I wanted to read what these women had to say and be allowed to come to my own conclusions. I really was appalled at the disrespect the author showed to women who opened both their homes and their lives to her.

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